Caleb is a 20-year-old with a passion for University of Tennessee (UT) football who happens to have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). When his older brother began attending college at UT, he naturally wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Thanks to the FUTURE program at UT—a post-secondary education program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities resulting in a vocational certificate—Caleb’s dream became a reality.
The FUTURE program provides academic, social and vocational development after high school. For Caleb—and students like him—the FUTURE program helps them make a successful transition from high school to adult life by achieving independence and employment. Most students complete the program in two or three years.
When Caleb first enrolled in the FUTURE program, he wasn’t sure what type of career he wanted. His first semester, he began auditing college courses in subjects he was interested in, like geography, and courses designed to increase life skills, such as money management, digital literacy, and life and career planning. He also completed an internship working four to eight hours a week on campus. Caleb’s first internship placement took place at UT’s Health Science Center (UTHSC).
In recent years, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s speech-language pathology program formed a partnership with the FUTURE program and began developing a therapeutic internship. Throughout the semester, FUTURE students like Caleb work with undergraduate students from throughout the university who act as job coaches, speech-language pathology graduate students and a clinical faculty member. Together, these teams create goals designed to improve job readiness by addressing conceptual, social and practical skills.
Student clinicians target challenges often faced in the workplace, such as complex verbal directions, advocating for themselves or asking for clarification. Other areas include engaging in small talk with coworkers, time management or learning to minimize workplace distractions.
In addition to working with speech-language pathology grad students, the FUTURE interns help with everyday clinic functions—creating treatment materials, taking inventory, distributing supplies, creating lists, replacing batteries, filing and computer work. These tasks require professional engagement and executive functioning skills.
Graduate students can also help support undergraduate job coaches. Some of the undergrads might want to serve students with specials needs—others might be working toward a career in business or engineering. The graduate students encourage coaches to communicate effectively with FUTURE students and not feel compelled to complete tasks for them.
During Caleb’s internship at our Hearing and Speech Center, he learned how to greet co-workers, ask for clarification with complex directions, and communicate problems rather than avoid them. Graduate clinicians also addressed his ability to respond more adequately to questions, holding mock job interviews. His next internship placement will continue some of these goals and encourage growth toward gainful employment.
For his final year in the FUTURE program, Caleb will begin a new internship with Mobile Meals. He is now interested in exploring the possibility of working in food services. With some job experience under his belt, he sees more options in the workforce.
Now that Caleb has shown improvement with his communication skills on the job, this is a realistic goal for his FUTURE.
Emily Clark Noss, MA, CCC-SLP, is clinical associate professor in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and clinical coordinator for Child Hearing Services. email@example.com
Jennifer Wilson, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinical instructor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. firstname.lastname@example.org